This time of year, as anyone living in the greater midwest will tell you, is walnut season. The green racquetball sized walnuts litter the ground and anyone’s yard who is lucky (?) enough to have one. Ankles are rolled on them, cars can be dented by them, and you’ll occasionally see a squirrel hoisting one around in his mouth trying desperately to bury it before anyone sees him. I used to think of black walnuts as basically trash. Giant green balls that fall out of the trees each September and stain your hands and the driveway if the husk is broken open. Meant for the trash and not much else. I knew they weren’t the same walnuts I buy at the store, so I assumed they just weren’t really eaten. Well….
This year, my suddenly homesteading and very enterprising husband collected a few of our neighbor’s walnuts that had fallen into our driveway “just to see”. He Googled how to crack them open, and suddenly an obsession was born. He collected grocery sacks full of them from neighbors yards, ripped open the husks with a knife (sort of like avocados) and once the finger staining hulls were removed– pressure washed them in a metal basket to clean the shells. When the shells were clean, they sat on a rack in the garage to dry for a week or so. If someone who was unaware of this new nut collecting hobby Chris had taken to came through our garage, they would have likely thought we had adopted a pet squirrel.
Once the nuts were dry, it was time to crack. Multiple times over the last few weeks, he would sit out on the patio with a hammer and a pick– cracking the nuts and pulling out the “nut meat” (new favorite term). In fairness to those shaking their heads wondering why on earth someone would do this– have you ever smashed a nut with a hammer? It’s a good feeling. Really relieves stress. Add a cold beer and some music and you have yourself a lovely evening (What is happening to us? Is this our entertainment now? Nut cracking on a Friday night???).
So. Weeks of black nut collecting, hulling, washing, drying, and cracking left us with a whopping (are you ready for this?) 8oz!! A whole whopping half pound. So naturally we stuck them in a cookie so we could eat our feelings.
It should be noted that the black walnut’s flavor is wildly different from the more common English Walnut. I’ve seen it described as “bold and more flavorful”, “stronger nut flavor than anything else you’ve ever had,” a thumbs down from our daughter Hazel, as well as my personal favorite description, “eau de Home Depot.”
Personally I think they have a nice floral smell and taste, and after roasting the “perfumed” nature dissipates a bit and you are left with a really lovely, flavorful nut.
Putting them into a simple butter cookie adds a level of sweet/savory that I am really into. It allows the flavor of the black walnut to shine (which was the goal of course) and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt on top enhances the flavor.
Will we harvest black walnuts next year? Hard to say. But there is something to be said for looking at those green walnuts hanging from all the trees in our neighborhood and knowing there is delicious cookie potential hiding in the branches. We’ll see next year!
Salted Black Walnut Butter Cookies
Makes about 2 Dozen 3 inch cookies
12 Tbsp butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 1/4 C light brown sugar
1Tbsp vanilla extract
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 3/4 C all purpose flour
1 tsp table salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1.5 C black walnuts, roughly chopped (not into hand-havesting? You can buy them here!)
Maldon Sea Salt
Adjust oven racks to upper middle and lower middle positions and heat oven to 350F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper
In large mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, vanilla, and melted butter. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the consistency is smooth. Add the egg and continue whisking until combined and mixture is glossy.
In small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda and whisk to combine. Gently fold dry ingredients into the wet, folding until fully combined. Add walnuts and continue folding and stirring to incorporate evenly.
Using a cookie scoop (or spoons) dollop 2 inch balls of dough onto prepared sheet pans. Sprinkle each cookie with sea salt.
Bake for 8-9 minutes, or until the edges are set and starting to brown, rotating half way for even baking.
Let cool on sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack. Enjoy!
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